5 Ways to Create Memorable Virtual Experiences

It takes a killer event experience to motivate supporters to fundraise in the pandemic era.

Simply saying “We’re going virtual, please walk and ask for donations” is a recipe for disaster.

So how do you create inspiring, engaging programming during this era of social distancing?

Five experts who make their living helping peer-to-peer pros tackle such problems recently provided us with some actionable advice.

Here are their tips:

1. Reimagine a live event

Blackbaud’s Shana Masterson is seeing a number of examples of campaigns that are finding creative ways to engage participants in person.

“Some participants are ready to connect with others safely,” she says. “Traditional events can become car parades, socially-distant rides, or drive-in rallies.”

The Autism Speaks Walk, for example, gave fundraisers the chance to leave their walking shoes at home and participate in their cars.

Virtual gives you the opportunity to throw your old rules out the window and try something completely different.

2. Create mission moments

You don’t have to be in the same place to create emotionally memorable moments, says Erica Helphand of OP3.

During the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Virtual Overnight Experience, the nonprofit used photos uploaded to a hashtag to create a powerful, mosaic-style photo of virtual participants that was generated in real time.

“It was powerful, engaging, and showed that your participation really mattered,” Helphand said.

3. Explore exciting places

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute used its partnership with the Boston Red Sox to create a virtual challenge to “Fill Fenway” Park by buying tickets to a future game and having the proceeds of their sale benefit the Jimmy Fund.

Visitors can take an interactive tour of the iconic ballpark and virtually experience some of the park’s hidden gems, says Eventage’s Jen Junger.

Those who purchase tickets also were listed on an online tribute board and get their photos on a Red Sox-themed trading card.

To date, the campaign has filled about half of Fenway’s 37,731 seats – meaning that nearly 19,000 virtual tickets have been sold to benefit Dana-Farber.

4. Use trackers

Many nonprofits have been experimenting with the use of virtual fitness trackers that help fundraisers log how far they’ve run, walked or ridden as a way to create challenges and help participants track their progress.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia used tracking technology to create a 31-Day fitness challenge that led to a 181 percent increase in fundraising compared with a similar campaign in 2019.

More than 1,600 fundraisers in 32 states took part in virtual challenges in which they ran, walked, or biked 31, 62, or 100 miles in May.

“People enjoy sharing their workout accomplishments, allowing them to connect that energy to your cause is always a win,” says DonorDrive CEO Marc Rubner.

5. Engage your super-supporters

Whatever you choose to do with your virtual campaign, it helps to build excitement early.

FrontStream’s Lucas VanGombos advises peer-to-peer pros to kick-start their virtualized campaigns by reaching out to your top fundraisers before you officially launch registration and invite them to start fundraising early.

“This gives your superstar fundraisers some extra attention and allows you to officially launch your event with some already-crafted great example of successful donation pages,” he said.